Theater Reviews

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Venue: Duke of York’s Theatre, London (Through July 5)

Polly Stenham wrote “That Face,” a play about the disintegration of a
well-off family, when she was 19. But you wouldn’t know it until the
shrieking of two siblings and their estranged parents goes from strident to
adolescent.

Staged last year by the Royal Court and now transferred to the Duke of
York’s Theatre in London’s West End under the direction of Jeremy Herrin,
the play has won plaudits for the young playwright, and there’s little doubt
that Stenham will go far.

Classy stage veteran Lindsay Duncan does a great deal to give more depth
than is on the page to the portrayal of Martha, a once-beautiful woman now
ravaged by alcoholism. There’s no real accounting of her descent into a sort
of refined squalor, her callous dismissal of teenaged daughter Mia (Hannah
Murray) and adoring but selfish domination of artistic son Henry (Matt
Smith).

The absence of rich ex-husband Hugh (Julian Wadham), who’s remarried and
lives in luxury in Hong Kong, has much to do with it, but though he returns
to deal with his squabbling family, not much more is revealed.

Stenham begins the play with a scene of torture in a private school that
causes Mia to be threatened with expulsion and then cuts to an unkempt
bedroom where Martha is lolling about in the sheets with Henry. The incest
is implied more than acted upon, and when Henry reveals that he has taken a
lover, mumsy at first assumes it must be another boy and is quite pleased.
Upon discovering that his partner is female, she erupts with a nasty act of
jealousy.

The increasing frenzy and unexplored background to events conspire to weaken
the eventual confrontations, and an enigmatic ending doesn’t help. Duncan is
perfectly in control as the self-indulgent and provocative mother, and
Wadham brings an air of befuddled impatience to the father.

The younger actors do not fare so well, with Murray not best cast as a
steely and sometimes cruel young woman and Smith encouraged to demonstrate
from the outset that this mother’s boy is seriously damaged goods.


Venue: Duke of York’s Theatre, London (Through July 5)
Cast: Lindsay Duncan, Matt Smith, Hannah Murray, Catherine Steadman, Julian
Wadham, Rebecca Eve. Playwright: Polly Stenham; Director: Jeremy Herrin;
Designer: Mike Britton. Lighting: Natasha Chivers. Sound: Emma Laxton.

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